As expected, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension. What is notable however is one fact released by the NFL. Brady allegedly met with NFL investigators, including Ted Wells, and then (after being informed of the need to examine his cellphone) ordered minions to destroy his phone. In a criminal case, such an action could be viewed as obstruction — a separate chargeable offense.
Here is the NFL’s release:
“On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cellphone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed. He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone.
“During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cellphone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.
I share the NFL’s view that the destruction of the phone is highly suspicious conduct. We have previously discussed the scandal.
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“Based on the Wells Report and the evidence presented at the hearing, Commissioner Goodell concluded in his decision that Brady was aware of, and took steps to support, the actions of other team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels called for by the NFL’s Official Playing Rules. The commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs.”
According to reports, Brady authorized the NFL Players Association to escalate the matter to the legal system, and the NFL has also asked a New York court to confirm its decision.
The NFLPA called the commissioner’s decision “outrageous,” and issued its own statement.
“The Commissioner’s ruling today did nothing to address the legal deficiencies of due process. The NFL remains stuck with the following facts:
■ The NFL had no policy that applied to players;
■ The NFL provided no notice of any such policy or potential discipline to players;
■ The NFL resorted to a nebulous standard of “general awareness” to predicate a legally unjustified punishment;
■ The NFL had no procedures in place until two days ago to test air pressure in footballs; and
■ The NFL violated the plain meaning of the collective bargaining agreement.
The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors.
The NFLPA will appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.”
The NFL explained its decision in a 20-page report that accompanied its announcement. According to the report, Brady testified at his suspension appeal hearing on June 23 that it is standard practice for him, or his assistant, to destroy his old cellphones and SIM cards upon acquiring a new one.
He began using a new phone “on or about March 6,” which is also the day he met with Ted Wells and investigators to be interviewed about Deflategate.
Goodell served as the arbitrator for the appeal hearing, which was held at NFL headquarters in New York on June 23. The closed-door hearing lasted 11 hours, and ESPN reported that nearly 40 people were in the room.
Among the witnesses was Wells, who led the Deflategate investigation that resulted in Brady’s four-game suspension. Wells confirmed he testified but didn’t offer any details.
Though Patriots owner Robert Kraft was not at the hearing, he wrote a letter on Brady’s behalf.
Brady’s legal team argued that not only did Wells find no definitive proof of a scheme to deflate game balls in the AFC Championship game against the Colts or of Brady having any knowledge of such a plan, it also claimed Brady’s punishment was far too harsh based on precedent — a four-game suspension would cost Brady $1.88 million.
Brady was initially notified of his suspension by NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent on May 11. The Patriots were also penalized, losing a first-round draft pick in 2016, a fourth-round pick in 2017, and fined a league-record $1 million.
On May 14, the NFL Players Association filed an appeal on Brady’s behalf.
In its letter to Vincent, which was signed by NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso, the union outlined three major points as to why Brady’s punishment should be vacated or reduced.
The first: Under the collective bargaining agreement, Vincent does not have the authority to determine and mete out discipline, only Goodell does.
“As both Mr. Brady’s discipline letter and the NFL’s public statements make clear, you were tasked by Commissioner Goodell to determine whether Mr. Brady should be subject to discipline for conduct detrimental in connection with the events described in the Wells Report, and if so, to decide and impose the discipline,” the letter said. “And you have, in fact, imposed Mr. Brady’s discipline pursuant to the Commissioner’s purported delegation of his authority.
“Any such delegation is a plain violation of the CBA. The CBA grants the Commissioner — and only the Commissioner — the authority to impose conduct detrimental discipline on players.”
Another of the union’s points of contention was that Brady’s four-game suspension was far too harsh given precedent and punishment given to other players for similar infractions; and it also attacked the credibility of the Wells Report.
Just hours after the appeal was filed, news emerged that Goodell intended to serve as the appeals officer. The NFLPA then demanded that Goodell recuse himself and appoint a neutral arbitrator, arguing in part that if the league truly believed the Wells Report was a fair and independent investigation, it should have no problem having an independent individual oversee the appeal.
Additionally, the NFLPA made clear its intention of calling Goodell and Vincent as witnesses at the hearing, and having the commissioner as de facto judge and witness would complicate that.
On May 22, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, appearing on ESPN, said the union had not gotten a response from Goodell on whether he would recuse himself and if there wasn’t a response within a week, the union would “turn up the volume” on its request.
A report came a short time after Smith’s interview aired that Goodell had decided to remain as arbitrator, but a league spokesmen said Goodell had not made his decision. Rather, the NFL’s lawyers had submitted their arguments to Goodell as to why he should not hand off the hearing to a different arbitrator.